In his first start since taking a six month break to travel the world, wingman Jake McGregor scored a brace of tries to snatch a Winchester victory from the jaws of defeat writes John Smith.
Playing out of position, in a much-changed line-up, and with Winchester trailing visitors Old Blues after 80 minutes of play, McGregor and Zimbabwean international Tom Nelson scored late tries in the eight minutes of stoppage time allowed by Buckinghamshire referee Chris Preston.
Winchester were the more impressive side throughout, despite chasing the visitors lead for much of the game. They occupied Old Blues territory for most of the first half and, on two of the rare occasions the visitors were able to escape, the Surrey side scored unconverted tries.
The first, bundled over by the pack following a line-up on the left, came after just three minutes and it was not until the mid-way point of the first half that Winchester were able to reduce the deficit. Moving the ball swiftly along the back line it fell to McGregor on the left wing who, with searing pace, outran the covering defence to score under the posts. Tom Nelson’s conversion gave Winchester a brief 7-5 advantage.
It was the swift, sure handling and robust tackling that gave Winchester the edge throughout but it couldn’t prevent Old Blues scoring a second try, a carbon copy of their first and much against the run of play, to give the visitors a 10-7 interval lead.
“We played well in the first half,” said assistant coach Mike Sullivan. “We created four or five try scoring opportunites but scored only one. We had a young side, a number of them playing out of position and they became impatient.”
In a colourless second half, flowing rugby gave way to tense grunt and grind tussles in the middle third of the pitch. Determined defensive work by Old Blues thwarted any efforts Winchester made to open the game and wingers McGregor and Tim Clarke were denied opportunities to influence the score-line.
Tom Nelson and fly-half Spencer Edwards kicked intelligently to good advantage but Winchester were unable to penetrate the visitor’s final line of defence in a tense and frustrating second half.
“Old Blues were the better side in the second half,” added Sullivan. “They disrupted everything we tried and it became a much more even game which could have gone either way. We hung on against a tiring side and snatched it with the two late tries.”
In a seemingly endless period of stoppage time the acrobatic Tom Pervin plucked the ball from a line out close to Old Blues’ line and fed scrum-half Adam Adkins who wriggled his way towards the posts. His off-load put Jake McGregor in for his second try and Nelson’s conversion gave Winchester a 14-10 lead.
It was eight minutes later that Adkins was provider again, a timely pass on half-way allowing Nelson to skip and sidestep his way to the try line. Nelson’s conversion of his own try was the final action of a 21-10 Winchester victory that could, so easily, have ended in defeat.